‘Inspired’ brings together the work of sculptor and his students01/30/2023 10:11AM ● By Richard Gaw
Courtesy art “Inspired,” featuring 14 works from local sculptor Stan Smokler and 17 sculptors from eight of Smokler’s students, will be on display at The Art Trust At Meridien Bank gallery in West Chester through Feb. 24.
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
Given the relatively hilly but not severe topography of Chester County, there is nothing reminiscent of a Mount Rushmore anywhere near, but if there were such a mountain reserved for the likeness of some of the county’s most influential artists -- as there is for four of our nation’s presidents on that mountain in South Dakota -- chances are that the face of sculptor Stan Smokler would be carved into the bedrock.
For the last several decades, Smokler has been honored and celebrated for the modernist purity in his steel sculptures, in galleries all across the United States. With the imagination of a true visionary, he has taken found items – the steel cogs, pipes, beams and chains of industry -- and forged them into geometric masterpieces.
Through his Marshall Bridge Welding Workshop and his teaching at the Delaware College of Art and Design, he has shared his mastery of the medium by inspiring hundreds of students to expand their creativity and develop new ways of artistic expression.
In the process of his development as an artist, and in the selfless collaboration he has made with his students, fellow artists and the community he has lived in for many years, Stan Smokler has become an artistic icon. Now, as he battles a degenerative brain condition known as Frontotemporal Dementia – one that was first diagnosed two years ago and requires constant care and the recent need to move to a dementia care facility – The Art Trust at Meridien Bank in West Chester is paying tribute to Smokler, and has also invited many of his students and fellow artists to come along.
“Inspired,” which opened on Jan. 11 and will run through Feb. 24 at The Art Trust’s gallery at Meridien Bank in West Chester, features 14 of Smokler’s sculptures, as well as 17 works from eight other local artists who have been influenced by him: Dave Beck, Kevin Bielicki, Lele Galer, Mike and Rhoda Kahler, Laurie Lamont Murray, John Pappa and Clay Scott.
The exhibit was in part inspired by “Stan Smokler: Steel in Flux,” which ran at the Delaware Art Museum from June to October of 2022, as well as another exhibit that was held at his Marshall Bridge studio last September. “Inspired” was developed by John Baker and Liz Ruff of The Art Trust, in collaboration with Smokler’s wife, Madeline Lewis.
“With ‘Inspired,’ the idea was to showcase his work but also demonstrate his impact to the arts community, as a reflection of how they have been inspired by him,” Ruff said. “Everyone in the show studied with Stan but are each bringing their own vision to this exhibit. The Art Trust’s mission is to promote contemporary artists as a benefit to the community, and this exhibit wraps around that mission.
“We’re not only giving these artists some great exposure, but tying their work to Stan’s, as a way of showing how generations of artists help each other.”
Throughout the run of the exhibit, The Art Trust at Meridien Bank is donating 50 percent of net proceeds form the sales of “Inspired” entries directly to help pay for Smokler’s care. To date, the organization has raised nearly $4,000.
Throughout Galer’s artistic life, she has gained a solid reputation as an oil and encaustic painter who incorporates rich textures and bright palettes in her work. In 2016, she took a class with Smokler at his Marshall Bridge studio – one of only 10 students who were accepted during each workshop -- and began to find her voice as a sculptor of steel.
“Stan got me to see metal in an entirely different way, and when a new medium is opened up, it’s like a part of your brain explodes in a happy way,” said Galer, who has two figures in the exhibit. “It was as if a tunnel had just opened up, and I could not wait to get my hands on new material. Learning a new form of art as an adult is incredibly freeing, because there are no rules.
“What has made Stan an extraordinary teacher hasn’t been about the fame he has achieved as a sculptor, but about his love of metal and engendering that love to others. He would see students of all ages and abilities and inch it forward in the form of a gentle nudge, and it has been extraordinary.”
Artist, sculptor and Art Trust board member Katee Boyle first took a class with Smokler in 2014.
“Stan has quietly steered my work through the years by fielding endless questions about the thought process, presentation, and the nature of sculptural objects,” she said. “I am forever grateful to and remain in complete admiration of Stan -- his perseverance to remaining a guide to so many, and his massive commitment to contemporary art.”
Ruff said “Inspired” is serving two of the Art Trust’s key initiatives.
“Our mission with this exhibit to communicate how talented Stan is and get his work sold and into homes, but also celebrate the impact he has made as a teacher, a mentor and a friend to these artists,” she said. “That’s where the ‘Inspired’ comes from and that’s what we really meant to bring.
“There are a lot of great artists, but he puts that greatness out there, in the form of other artists who have taken his teaching and then made it their own.”
“Inspired” runs through Feb. 24 at The Art Trust at Meridien Bank, located at 16 W. Market Street in West Chester. The exhibit will include a talk with the artists on Feb. 2 from 7 to 8 p.m., and a closing reception on Feb. 23 from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
The Art Trust at Meridian Bank is a volunteer-based organization, funded entirely by Meridien Bank that supports and cultivates the exploration of a contemporary aesthetic for the benefit of artists and the community. Net proceeds from the sale of works are directed toward art grants, sponsorships and scholarships. To learn more, visit www.thearttrust.org.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].